And this is exactly what I hoped wouldn't happen so that I wouldn't have to write this as my Game 5 preview. The personal commitments I alluded to yesterday are a wedding that I'm in this Saturday. And while that's a beautiful thing and an honor to be a part of and all of that stuff, it still royally screws up my plans to watch and write about the most important thing in the world every October, Yankee playoff baseball. Rehearsal and rehearsal dinner is tonight, and the wedding itself is its typical all day/all night affair on Saturday, so at best I'm going to get to watch the first half of tonight's game, miss the end, and if the Yankees do advance I'll also miss Game 1 of the ALCS.
As for that whole "advancing" thing, what do you really say about this team? If you would have said before Game 1 that the Yankee starters would combine to allow just 8 ER in 30.2 combined IP, that should have worked out to a slam dunk 3-1 series victory. And if anybody in the lineup not named Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira would have shown up in this series that's exactly what would have happened. But the station-to-station problems and RISP Fail that plagued the offense all season has been kind enough to stick around for the playoffs, and now it all comes down to tonight.
Updated Starting Lineups (2:30PM)-
Jeter- SS, 2) Ichiro- LF, 3) Cano- 2B, 4) Teix- 1B, 5) Ibanez- DH, 6) Swish- RF, 7) C-Grand- CF, 8) Martin- C, 9) Chavez- 3B
McLouth- LF, 2) Hardy- SS, 3) Jones- CF, 4) Davis- RF, 5) Wieters- C, 6) Machado- 3B, 7) Mark Reynolds- 1B, 8) Ford- DH, 9) Andino- 2B
CC Sabathia (8.2 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K in Game 1) vs.
Jason Hammel (5.2 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K in Game 1)
3 Things to Watch For:
1) A Left-Handed Awakening
A-Rod is hogging all the bad press relating to the team's offensive struggles in this series, but any rational person who's matched more than 2 games knows that there is plenty of room at the blame table. Nick Swisher is 2-15 with a small refugee camp left on base. Robinson Cano is just 2-18, and while he's driven in 4 runs he's left way too many more out there in the last couple games by only moving runners over with weak grounders instead of driving them in. And Curtis Granderson has gone just 1-16 with 9 strikeouts. Swish will turn around to his power side tonight and all 3 of these no-shows will get a second look at Jason Hammel, who they all seemed to see the ball well against in Game 1. Somebody from this trio needs to step up and do something tonight.
2) Where A-Rod Bats & How Long He Plays
It wouldn't be a Yankee elimination game without "A-Rod sucks" talk and there shouldn't be a shortage of it today leading up to the game. He struck out swinging to end the 6th with the go-ahead run on second and then did it again with runners on second and third in the 8th, and that's what people are going to remember and talk about today. It's also what Joe is going to have to consider when fitting Alex into the batting order tonight. He didn't do anything against Hammel in Game 1 despite solid career numbers, and has looked straight up overmatched by every right-handed pitcher he's faced. And with so much at stake tonight, how long does Joe let him play? If there's a key at-bat with RISP in the 5th-6th inning and Hammel is still in, I'd be giving serious thought to pinch hitting Eric Chavez.
3) Who Can Make A Play?
The manner in which the Yankee offense went down in extra innings last night was almost tear-inducing. There was nothing even remotely resembling a rally, no real good at-bats to point to try to be positive, and a real stale feeling around the team. The swings were bad, but the body language and the facial expressions were even worse. The O's are over in their dugout doing team cheers and funny shit with their hats like it's "The Sandlot" out there, and the Yankees looked tight, quiet, and downright scared. The Yankees are 3-20 with RISP in the last 3 games, and their only saving grace has been that Baltimore has gone 6-31 in the series and has their collection of big bats doing just as little as the Yankees'. So who from this big pool of offensive nothingness is going to come up with a big hit or hits tonight? Raul Ibanez already etched his name into postseason history in Game 3. A lot of somebodies have a chance to do the same tonight.
Players To Watch:
Baltimore- Nate McLouth
McLouth has absolutely murdered the Yankees in this series (7-22, 2 XBH, 3 R, 5 RBI), and it all started with his 2-run single off of CC in Game 1. The expectation was that Sabathia and Pettitte would handle McLouth at the top of the order, and to a certrain degree they did (2-8 against them). But McLouth has 2 hits in each of his last 2 games, he's swinging with power, and he's been the most dangerous and most consistent bat in the Baltimore lineup. Knowing the dormant power dangers that linger behind him, it is imperative for CC to keep McLouth off the basepaths tonight. I'd be feeding him a steady diet of sliders and changeups away, so look for McLouth to be aggressive early in the count and try to square up some fastballs.
New York- CC Sabathia
I'm done waiting around for the offense to wake up. If they do, great, that should make for a nice easy game. But there have been too many stretches this season, this current one included, where they have been miserable and so I'm putting the burden on CC to pull this game out tonight. He was brilliant in Game 1, his final line would have looked even better with some BABIP luck his way, and he got better as the game went on. He's got a full 4 days' worth of rest and you know Joe is going to run his guy until he completely empties the tank as long as CC is still effective. If the Yankees are going to win tonight, it's going to be on the back of their ace. I expect CC to try to pitch to contact early, locate his fastball to keep his pitch count down, and then dial in his slider command to go for strikeouts in the middle and later innings.
So here we are. The most important game of the Yankee season and I won't be there to watch it. Sure, I know I'm going to have a good time at the dinner and the wedding tomorrow, but not being able to watch the game tonight is absolutely going to eat away at me. One way or another, and in more ways than just one if you think about it, tonight's game is going to be the end of the Yankees' 2012 story or the beginning of the next chapter.
P.S.- I'll try to take some notes on the part of the game I do get to watch, and I'll try to post something for a Game 5 recap and/or ALCS Game 1 preview tomorrow morning, but no promises.
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